Kansas library advocacy reflections (so far)

Q: When was the last time 95% of Americans agreed any anything?

A: In 2013, when 95% of Americans agreed that: 

  • the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed
  • 95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading
  • Source: A December 2013 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project)

On Thursday night after I had worked with Laura DeBaun (NEKLS System Director) to craft this very message over the phone in my hotel room in Philadelphia (as a work conference I was attending was ending), after afternoon virtual meetings with Kansas librarians who are on the Kansas Library Association governmental affairs committee, and sent this initial post out…. Exhaustion hit.

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Leadership for the Common Good: Lessons from the Kansas Leadership Center

Kansas Leadership Center was set up by the Kansas Health Foundation, based in Wichita, KS.

Emporia State University is an official partner with the Kansas Leadership, and infusing parts of the KLC with the undergraduate and graduate courses, including SLIM.

KLC’s materials are not copyrighted, and free to use. Methods come out of Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Adaptive vs technical problems Dr. Andrew Smith

Adaptive vs. technical problems change in approaches and outcomes. Technical problems can be complex; critically important; resolved through application of authoritative expertise, and in organization’s current structures, procedures and ways of doing things.

Adaptive problems are bigger than technical issues. Only can be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties. Q: Why are we doing this? A: It’s always been this way. If you start changing things, that’s adaptive.

The practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz

Technical problems are clearly defined, have a clear solution, and the locus of work is authoritative. Doesn’t mean that it’s simple and easy to do and may very well be expensive.

Technical and adaptive problems are clearly defined, the solutions require learning, and the locus of work is authoritative and stakeholders.

Adaptive problems require learning to be defined, the solution requires learning, and the locus of work is the stakeholders.

If you start thinking about problems and solutions from this perspective, it’s very helpful when you are the one who is having to come up with a solution. Getting to the stage where you can figure out what type of problem it is, can better help you figure out how to best solve the problem.

Distinguishing leadership from authority

Leadership isn’t the same as authority. As we are learning leadership principles, these are things we can take, learn, and apply, without being the boss. That’s not the same as being the boss. Authority — one person in charge, can take a problem, determine it’s technical, and say here’s how to fix it. Adaptive problems, involves more people in the decision-making and solution process.

Leadership problem: not asking the people at the ground level how to fix something — they can know the solutions, but aren’t in authority positions to make changes; those problems aren’t treated as adaptive, but technical problems. The TV show Undercover Boss reveals this again and again.

You don’t have to be the person in charge to do adaptive leadership.

There may be more going on in a situation — we may need a lot more information than what is first presenting. Doctors ask a lot, am I fixing a symptom or the illness?

Adaptive: change something, not just solve a problem. Management may need to change approaches, processes, workers may need to change how a task is done, etc.

Seldom do you have all the information you need, you need to ask for more. More people may need to be asked. Who are the stakeholders? Paying, consuming, doing, paying from a distance. Asking the right people and enough people, not just diving in and solving the technical issue.

If it truly is a technical problem, has a clear, authoritative expert solution.

Adaptive, need to look further, and making changes, talk to more people.

Competing Values/Commitments, Dr. Gwen Alexander

Lisa Leahy and Robert Kegan, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization

What’s keeping you from achieving your goals?

A hidden dynamic in the challenge of changes: competing values/commitments

The technical fix often works for awhile, but there may be underlying causes that need further changes and not just technical fix.

You may say, I want to make a change, but parts of you contradict that need to make a change.

We’re unable to make the change we want to make because we misdiagnose it as technical, and it’s really adaptive, and requires much more thought to solve the challenge.

Adaptive solutions change yourself — changing to the situation.

Competing values/commitments cause IMMUNITY to change.

How can you bring your competing values and commitments together so they work together, not barriers to change?

There can be other stakeholders involved and politics at play with competing values and commitments. A lot in the environment could be affecting the opportunity for change.

Exercise: Write down your goal. What are your behaviors that allow progress toward the goals and preventing achieving the goal? What are the hidden competing values and commitments? Defensiveness comes out, rationalizing our behavior. It’s easier to come up with a rational defense, than to come up with the steps to make it happen and suffer the consequences/repercussions.

You cannot use technical means to solve adaptive challenges. Technical issues: the skill sets necessary to perform those complicated behaviors are known. Adaptive issues require you to develop a more sophisticated approach.

If you have worries, you may have competing commitments that are preventing you from achieving your goals. Do you have competing commitments or do they have you? When you have competing commitments, you’re driving with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake.

Observe your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and learn to use this information. Bring your new capacity for adaptive changes to other issues in your work and personal lives.

Care of Self, Dr. Robin Kurz

Competing priorities/commitments: We tend to put everything above ourselves.

As adaptive leaders, we must know our strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers; know the stories others tell about us (self-image vs. reality); choose among competing values. Most of what we do isn’t immediately life-threatening/critical. Take a sick day when getting sick.

As adaptive leaders, we must get used to uncertainty and conflict (organizational – especially around change; internal; external); experiment beyond our comfort zones; take care of ourselves as individuals (and not put our expectations on others).

Sometimes we misinterpret a situation.

Too close to a situation, need help understanding other viewpoints, shift perspectives, adapt to a situation.


Leadership on Demand from the Kansas Leadership Center is a 10-week video series to help you make progress on an issue you care most about in your community or organization. For $50 you will have access to KLC online curriculum and a Leadership on Demand workbook. Watch the first video in the Leadership on Demand series free.